New community federal credit union reflects King's message of financial independence

Kansas City Star |

--A speech Martin Luther King Jr. delivered nearly 50 years ago has inspired a community group to take action today.

Delivered in front of a rousing crowd at Mason Temple Church in Memphis, King used his "I've Been to the Mountaintop," speech to urge congregants to support the sanitation workers strike and also as a clarion call for racial unity, non-violent protest and economic independence.

King stressed that African-Americans should boycott businesses that discriminate and use their dollars as a means of civil disobedience.

"Go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy -- what is the other bread? Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart's bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain."

It is that message that spurred a local group to organize the WeDevelopment Federal Credit Union. When it opens in April, the community credit union will be the first banking institution that targets those who live in the most financially underserved zip codes in Kansas City.

"Dr. King highlighted the need for people to take their own economic power into their own hands," said Ajamu K. Webster, acting board chair. "He talked about consumer power. He talked about buying black, supporting black-owned financial institutions. He talked about pooling our money to loan and have an economic impact."

The WeDevelopment credit union will serve Kansas City residents who live in the area roughly bounded by the Missouri River on the north, 85th Street on the south, Troost Avenue on the west and Interstate 435 on the east. The service area also includes portions of the city's West side.

Anyone who lives outside that target area can also join the credit union. Memberships are available for $25 and a minimum deposit is $25, Webster said.

Services at the WeDevelopment credit union will include check cashing, financial literacy, checking and saving accounts and vehicle and personal loans.

The credit union will be located inside the Linwood Shopping Center at Linwood Boulevard and Prospect Avenue. Organizers chose that location because the RideKC transit center at 31st Street and Prospect Avenue is one of the most heavily used in the city.

Roughly, 42 percent of African-Americans in Kansas City are classified by the federal government as either unbanked or underbanked. That means they do not have a bank account or access to a financial institution.

Many in that target area take their paychecks directly to a check casher, typically in a neighborhood market, and they pay a small fee.

To get a short-term loan, some unbanked or underbanked residents will use pawn shops, payday loans or car title loan businesses. Missouri ranks among the highest in the nation for the utilization of payday loans, according to a 2012 study by the Pew Foundation.

"There is a population out there whose needs are not being met and that is why we have the unbanked and the underbanked population and that is where credit unions come in and pick up the slack," Webster said. "If it is not picked up by a credit union, it is picked up by predatory lenders and not by someone who will work in the best interest of the community."

Organizers say they expect at least 1,500 persons to join the credit union.

The group has already raised $400,000 needed to cover two years of operating expenses, which is needed to receive its charter from the National Credit Union Administration.

"The WeDevelopment credit union is a great project that will help our residents have better access to financial tools that are often lacking in some of our neighborhoods," said Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte. "Just as we have supported bringing in more grocery stores to areas that have been food deserts, the City of Kansas City is committed to helping this new credit union launch and succeed. We look forward to the credit union joining the mix of businesses and basic services to serve the neighborhood as we redevelop the shopping center at Linwood and Prospect."

They have also received a $250,000 deposit commitment from the city of Kansas City and a $1 million deposit commitment from Kansas City Power & Light.

"KCP&L is committed to improving life in the communities we serve and we believe WeDevelopment will do exactly that," said KCP&L's Elizabeth Danforth, director of public affairs and community Relations. "We are excited to get to partner on another great development opportunity that strengthens Kansas City and our region."

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar


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